The best board games that we played in 2022
Things felt blissfully normal this year in the land of board gaming, with groups the world over beginning to regularly gather together in person around the table once more. A load of new games finally cleared customs and made their way into the hands of eager fans. As a bonus, the annual convention circuit was back in full swing with near normal attendance at marquee events such as Gen Con and Essen Spiel. It all added up to a bumper crop of new board games.
To celebrate, Polygon asked more than a dozen writers, designers, presenters, actors, and personalities from around the world of tabletop gaming to tell us which games stood out to them this year. Here’s what we found.
Heat: Pedal to the Metal
Tom Brewster, video goblin at Shut Up & Sit Down
Rarely do tabletop games manage to capture a feeling as well as Heat: Pedal to the Metal — and it’s a feeling that’s vanishingly rare within the genre of racing games. That feeling, surprisingly, is actually racing! The genre is dominated at the same time by random chance and pensive number-crunching, turning fabulous ideas into slow crawls. Heat changes all that. You’re screaming ahead of your opponents and taking a daredevil corner at “way too many” miles per hour, pushing your engine to the limit, delicately slipstreaming between your fellow racers. This is a wonderful box for a family of gamers, or the head honcho of a regular game night — an expanse of a board that you gaggle around and get a tiny bit rowdy over, but a core system that whips round at such a pace you’re either deciding or doing at any given time. The core here, a razor-sharp hand management game, is every bit as frothy and fun as its sister game Flamme Rouge — but with a new bite and vigor introduced through the titular Heat system. It’s a little pricey (certainly not a stocking filler), but a series of expansions already in the box will keep it on the shelf for a good long while.
SungWon “ProZD” Cho, YouTube personality and voice-over actor
The Clank! series has always been one of my absolute favorites in the deck building genre. I’ve played through countless expansions of the original Clank! and Clank! In! Space!, and I thoroughly enjoyed the legacy version as well. Truth be told, though, I wasn’t sure if Clank! Catacombs would change up the game enough to be worth its existence. My fears were unfounded; Clank! Catacombs completely reinvigorates a game I already loved and is now my favorite way to play the game. Simply changing the “board” to be a stack of tiles that randomly appear makes every play session a brand-new experience, and it really gives you the feel of pushing your luck deeper and deeper into a roguelike dungeon. The new mechanics are all fun, welcome additions, and I’m extremely excited for any new expansions they release for this one. Highly recommended for both old and new fans of Clank!
Pre-orders for Clank! Catacombs are currently sold out online, but games should be arriving at retail locations soon.
Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza
Anya Combs, tabletop account manager, Backerkit
I spent 2022 trying to add to my “robust” board game collection. I use “robust” loosely here as I live in Brooklyn with limited space, so I’m forced to be creative with storage. My partner and I found a new hobby in buying games at local thrift shops, and while we’ve found some gems, the game that resonated the most this year wasn’t found at a thrift shop, but purchased brand-new. The slap-happy party game Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza brought laughter, a little pain (take your rings off before you play!), and an immediate question of where people could buy their own copy at every table we brought it to. We spent part of 2022 traveling to visit family, and from my 6-year-old niece to our parents in their 70s, each night a family member would ask, “Can we play that narwhal game?”
Jordan Culver, morning breaking news editor, USA Today
My favorite tabletop game of the year was Blood Rage. This was a game that stood out at a local game store for my wife and I in 2021, and we finally got around to playing it with friends and family this year. For me, it’s a great combination of why I love tabletop games: It has great minis, gameplay that’s challenging without being convoluted, eye-catching art, and a story that you can make your own with each session. Put on some epic music, give your clan a backstory you came up with on the spot, and battle it out at the end of the world. Can’t ask for much else.
Kamiab Ghorbanpour, freelance writer and Polygon contributor
Moving to Japan from Europe is an incredibly interesting yet challenging experience as an Iranian. Iranians enjoy a fair share of prominence in most countries across the West and there are numerous shops, restaurants, and communities run by and for Iranians and Persephones. Even in the smallest towns and islands, I found Iranians of different ages and origins.
However, in Japan, my culture and identity remain a mystery despite a few Iranians thriving in the country as writers and athletes. So, I am mostly perceived as a white person from Europe — I was even mistaken for French multiple times due to the French’s great interest in Japan.
Not long ago, I was invited to a board game cafe in Tokyo. While I was getting used to this new form of experience as an Iranian, suddenly I realized the game we were going to play had a picture of a Persian soldier on it with Iranian iconography and everything! The game was called Battle Line, a reskinned version of Schotten Totten set during the Greco-Persian wars. I was thrilled to play this game with my Japanese friends. The experience ignited a sense of curiosity in them to learn more about me and my country’s history and culture (especially amid the current political climate).
I often find retheming and reskinning games pointless, but that was the point when I realized how impactful it can be and how different the experience could have been if we had played Schotten Totten instead.
Magic: The Gathering The Brothers’ War
Stan Golovchuk, freelance writer, Polygon contributor, and co-host of The Dive Down
This year marked the official return of sanctioned, competitive paper play in Magic: The Gathering, and I could not believe how much I yearned for the thrill of shuffling up cards and ruining opponents’ dreams. Although Magic endured the pandemic thanks to online play, the unique joy of moving cards around a physical table, showing off fancy versions of cards I overpaid for, and even meeting former internet friends in person for the first time made 2022 one of the most warmest and most exciting years in my competitive Magic career.
Star Wars Outer Rim: Unfinished Business
Caleb Grace, senior game designer at Fantasy Flight Games
When you love a game, sometimes all you want from an expansion is more. You don’t need new rules to complicate the experience; you just want more of it. That’s why my favorite game of 2022 is the Star Wars Outer Rim: Unfinished Business expansion to Star Wars: Outer Rim. It offers more of everything I love about the game: more playable characters, more iconic spaceships, and more ways to explore the Star Wars galaxy with friends.
Outer Rim is a board game that has you play as a famous outlaw, such as Han Solo or Cad Bane, in their quest to gain notoriety and wealth by capturing bounties, delivering cargo, and completing jobs. You spend the credits you earn to purchase gear and upgrade your ship, allowing you to tackle even bigger scores. And with Unfinished Business, there’s lots more of those to choose from!
The expansion adds some new features as well. Two core-worlds tiles allow players to travel directly from one end of the rim to the other, and ambition sheets provide each player with unique goals and win conditions. Both additions contribute to an even more immersive experience, which has always been my favorite part of the game.
Luke Gygax, Gary Con founder, game designer, and co-founder of Gaxx Worx
Anyone who has played Titan knows it takes a good eight to 12 hours to play. The game was designed by David A. Trampier, the famous artist that created many iconic Dungeons & Dragons images, and Jason McAllister. It was first released in 1980 by Gorgonstar Games and is absolutely gorgeous with tons of cool artwork.
Each player is a Titan vying for dominance of the world. You start with two ogres, two centaurs, two gargoyles, and one angel who is sort of a deputy commander. You split up your minions into stacks and roll a d6 to travel around the board to recruit more monsters for your armies. There are several different types of terrain on the board, and each one has creatures you can recruit. However, you have to have a related creature in order to attract them into your army. There is an elaborate wire diagram that shows the relationship of terrain and creatures that details what you get where. For instance two centaurs in the desert recruit a lion who is a bit stronger. Two lions recruit a ranger, which is fast, highly skilled, flying and ranged attack. The outer track of the map has the more basic creatures while the upper track requires the mid- and upper-tier creatures in your army to attract the toughest creatures like a dragon or colossus. What makes the game so fun is the battles. When two players land in the same space on the map, you have to take your army to a separate battle map that reflects the terrain such as a marsh with impassable hexes, a tower with fortifications, or the tundra where nonnative creatures take a point of damage every round they are in a snow hex. As the title of the game suggests you then slug it out using d6’s and a combat table to see who is left standing. There is no retreating in this game as there can be only one Titan!
Psychic Pizza Deliverers Go to the Ghost Town
Charlie Hall, senior editor, tabletop at Polygon
It was a chaotic year at Gen Con, and not just because the marquee tabletop convention was nearly back to full attendance. Developers and publishers alike trotted out some of the most bizarre board games I’ve ever seen — like Cat in the Box, a combination of euchre and particle physics. But by far the most chaotic game I played this year is called Psychic Pizza Deliverers Go to the Ghost Town, a hidden-environment game for three to five players. In it, players wander around a landscape that they literally cannot see. Only by stumbling over a pizza and wandering toward a house with the right kind of vibe can you successfully bring your pie to its rightful owner. It’s as fun to play as it is to say, and absolutely the best way I’ve found to warm up a group before a big game night.
Chaz Marler, video content director, Watch It Played
My favorite gaming experience this year was a combination of a board game and an RPG. Both at once. Is that cheating? I hope so.
The group of friends I game with most often has been enjoying the semi-cooperative sci-fi thriller Nemesis. People could say that Nemesis is strongly inspired by the Alien movie franchise, while remaining legally distinct enough that those same people can’t actually prove it. Regardless, it’s a game that takes place on a derelict spaceship infested with hostile alien critters that aren’t particularly fond of humans. One game night this year, I used Nemesis’ rules as a starting point to write a short storyline for my group to play through that included custom characters to meet, puzzles to solve, and props to ponder. The result was a game session full of intrigue, collaboration, and paranoia that left the group wanting more. And now, with the release of Nemesis: Lockdown, I’m looking forward to incorporating its new content and challenges into a new mini-adventure for my friends to explore.
The Night Cage
Michelle Nguyen Bradley, Kiếm on NY by Night
This summer, I was introduced to the horror board game The Night Cage, which, for a simple tile-based map game, was one of the most fun, tense, and innovative board games I’ve played. First off, the game is immersive. There’s a free soundtrack companion (available online) that sets the stage for the creepy vibes of this game. Plus, the game is made to stress you out, and I love it.
You work with other players to try and escape before map tiles (stacked in a cool candle-shaped holder) run out. You either all win, or you all die. Talk about a mood. Onto the gameplay: Trapped in a pitch-dark labyrinth with nothing but a candle, exploring The Night Cage reveals tiles that expose the keys needed to escape, light-destroying monsters, or an abyss to the unknown. It’s a simple setup, but you must cooperate with your teammates to explore the Cage and escape. It’s so much harder than it sounds, trust me.
Did we all die the first time I played? Yes. Was it still fun as heck and worth more replays? Absolutely. I highly recommend this game to anyone who likes a challenge, and a good scare!
Warhammer Underworlds: Gnarlwood
Emil Nyström, Squidmar Miniatures
My favorite tabletop board game over the past couple of years has been Warhammer Underworlds. Not only is it a fantastic high-pace tactical miniature-based game, and not only is it a game that can be played both as competitively or as an entry point for people interested in bigger games like Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, but we also need to talk about the miniatures! If you like playing with cool figures and miniatures, get immersed in an amazing fantasy universe or just painting minis, the pieces in Warhammer Underworlds are THE BEST-looking and most well-designed miniatures on the market — including all games. That alone makes it worth checking out!
Flames of War
Duncan Rhodes, co-founder, Duncan Rhodes Painting Academy
This year a tabletop game that I have really enjoyed playing is Flames of War from Battlefront Miniatures. World War II wargaming is something which I had never really tried, but during one of the many lockdowns some friends and I decided we would paint armies for something new as an excuse to get together as soon as we could — Flames of War was what we chose!
So we set off to paint armies for the North Africa campaign and I found a number of things that surprised me. The starter box sets are an amazing value, the kits are fun to put together, and painting the models is a breeze. I really enjoyed that I was not just building a tank or two, but instead an entire company of tanks with infantry platoons and artillery batteries in support.
Finally, meeting up with my friends last winter to take to the battlefield for the first time was a blast, and it was great to get all our newly painted models and scenery onto the tabletop. The game is fantastic and we’ve met up many more times since, always with new units to try out, and it’s been a ton of fun every time.
Jonathan Ritter-Roderick, director of games at Kickstarter
As someone who drools over high production quality paired with interactive gameplay, Moku Tower was it for me in 2022. While feverishly grabbing wooden “rocks” to build your tower, you can’t help but appreciate the attention to detail. It comes with a real glass hourglass, unique wood for each piece, and gameplay flair the world has come to expect and appreciate from Japan. If you get a chance to play Moku Tower, take some time to admire the component quality first. You will be even more impressed and hopefully inspired to make your own creation!
Tasha Robinson, film/streaming editor at Polygon
Wavelength was my big find of the year. It’s the rare party game that plays equally well for four people or 14, and one that moves briskly — you can play a full game in around 30 minutes. It’s good both for getting in a board-gaming day with friends started, and for family gatherings spanning a wide age range.
Like so many party games, you play it in teams, rotating through players on each team. Whoever is on deck draws a card that defines two ends of a spectrum. Prompts include cards such as “Happy Song vs. Sad Song” and “Science Fiction vs. Fantasy.” Then, the player in the hot seat tries to come up with an example that fits a randomly determined — but extremely precise — point on that spectrum, which their team has to guess using a dial. The closer the team comes to the designated point on the dial, the more points they get.
This can be surprisingly hard, and pretty hilarious. My first game had players just about falling out of their chairs trying to guess exactly where I thought “Using a toothpick in public” fell on the “Encouraged vs. Forbidden” scale, or whether Tamsyn Muir’s books are more science fiction or more fantasy. Wavelength is billed as a game of mind-reading, but it’s more about the brain tease of trying to come up with the perfect example of, say, a song your team will identify as exactly 20% sad versus 80% happy. It’s a great, lively discussion-starter that moves quickly and feels challenging, but simple and low-stakes at the same time.
Aeon’s End: Legacy / Barrage
Dani Standring, satirist on TikTok
Holy heck did I play a lot of new games this year. Dipped into some fresh 2022 hotness and some old goodies I have been meaning to play for a while, but only two will claim the top spots for me this year!
Aeon’s End: Legacy is a cooperative deck builder that is fantastic for folks who are new to the Aeon’s End universe. The campaign starts off with a tutorial-style intro that eases you into the gameplay and spits you a full-blown breach mage defending Gravehold from a horde onslaught of The Nameless!
Barrage stole my heart and I don’t think I am getting it back. This is a heavy Euro-style (placeholder for all standard Euro descriptors like strategic, resource management…) worker placement where you are building water infrastructure. I mean, what can be sexier? Water is a collective resource we’re all fighting for that will flow down the map at the end of every round. Quick shoutout to the wheel of resources that gates all of your actions and makes you think nine turns ahead — chef’s kiss! It is up to you to build dams and tunnels to harness all of that sweet, sweet hydroelectricity to score the most points at game’s end. Sounds dry as hell because it is, but it is one of the best games I have ever played!
Charlie Theel, freelance writer and Polygon contributor
Undaunted: Stalingrad has been my first experience with the Undaunted series and it has blown me away. These are a group of accessible World War II board games that utilize Dominion-style deck building to activate soldiers on the board. It’s ostensibly a skirmish experience with a small number of Axis and Ally units trading ground and bullets.
Stalingrad is the latest in the series and it’s an explosion of content. The main feature is a 15-session campaign, where you and an opponent delve into the storied battle of Stalingrad on the Eastern Front. Your deck pool, units, and the map itself change over time, reflecting your decisions as well as accomplishments. Even worse, casualties may become permanent, which adds an entirely uncommon consideration of possibly retreating as opposed to facing mounting losses.
While the narrative itself is rather ordinary, the combination of interesting scenarios and the unexpected surprises found throughout the campaign provides a striking experience that is singular. The Undaunted system provides an elegant foundation that is simple to understand but still rich in tactical weight. As a package, this game is tremendous and one of the best of 2022.
My Father’s Work
Mark Diaz Truman, tabletop game designer and CEO at Magpie Games
My favorite board game experience from this year is My Father’s Work, a narrative worker placement game from T.C. Petty III that my fellow Magpie, Brendan Conway, gleefully put in front of me a few months ago. Packed to the brim with premium components — actual glass vials! Unique animal meeples! — and featuring an app-driven narrative that actually produces what feels like an infinite number of storylines, My Father’s Work is a fascinating experience: You and your fellow players play the children of an insane and ambitious scientist (Dr. Frankenstein? Dr. Pretorius?) who return to his estate to finish his great works over the next few generations.
The game is simultaneously macabre and hilarious, cooperative and competitive, tragic and tense. Sometimes it feels like you must destroy yourself (and your siblings/cousins/fellow townsfolk) and your very sanity to reach a pinnacle of scientific achievement; other times it feels as if you must work together as a group to light a candle of scientific inquiry in the face of anti-intellectual stupidity. In a world of narrative board games that often amount to little more than reading events from a deck of cards in order, My Father’s Work delivers an experience in which your every choice matters more than you think.